Romania bows to minority pressure

July 16, 1999

The Romanian parliament has finally cleared the way for the establishment of the proposed Petoefi-Schiller University, which will teach in Hungarian and German, after two years of stormy debate.

But neither the ethnic Romanian majority nor the Hungarian minority is happy with the changes.

MPs have agreed amendments to the 1995 Education Act to allow higher education courses to be taught in minority languages. But only after a compromise was reached over the autonomy of the proposed "multi-cultural" higher education institutions.

As envisaged, courses relating to the culture and language of ethnic minorities would be coordinated by a rector chosen from among the staff who actually taught them.

The ruling Social Democratic Party of Romania opposed this clause, but eventually agreed that, if it was dropped, it would allow all other amendments to go through.

The Democratic Union of Hungarians in Romania - the main political voice of the Hungarian minority - accepted the deal. In return it won the right for minority-language institutions and departments to be organised within the state education system.

Romanian right-wingers, however, remained hostile. Varujan Vosganian, leader of the Union of Rightist Forces, called the compromise "a trap" and said that mother-tongue teaching for minorities would make it possible to exclude the Romanian language.

Anghel Stanciu, a prominent member of the Greater Romanian Party, resigned as chair of the education commission of the chamber of deputies, saying that to legalise a university where there will be no Romanian students nor language was "discrimination against the majority by the minority".

Gheorge Funar, ultra-right Romanian mayor of Cluj in the Transylvanian-Hungarian heartland, told minority-language supporters to go to hell.

Bela Marko, Democratic Union president, called the amendments a step forward, noting that despite an "anti-minority and anti-Magyar campaign", Romanians in the coalition had kept their promises.

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